Seven U.S. Navy sailors dead after collision with cargo ship.
CGTN’s Jim Spellman reports.
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A search and rescue mission for seven U.S. Navy sailors is over after divers reached their bodies in the flooded sleeping quarters of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald. The U.S. Navy destroyer collided with the ACX Crystal, a cargo ship, early Saturday.
The collision occurred in the middle of the night off the coast of Japan. Most of the sailors aboard the U.S.S. Fitzgerald were asleep.
“We do have watch teams that are awake throughout the night, but a significant part of the crew was sleeping. As I said before, two compartments that housed 116 of the crew are in those compartments. And it was a significant impact to the side of the ship. And you can’t see most of the damage, the damage is mostly underneath the water line, and it’s a large gash and near the keel of the ship, and so the water flow was tremendous,” Said Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, Commander of the US 7th fleet.
Water flooded into the quarters where the sailors were sleeping. The crew fought to evacuate the flooded areas of the ship and seal them off to prevent the ship from sinking. The captain’s quarters where the ship’s commander was asleep was also hit and flooded. He was injured and taken by helicopter to a hospital in Japan.
No one aboard the ACX Crystal was hurt.
The cause of the crash has not yet been determined. The U.S. Navy initially reported the crash occurred at 2:30 am, about 25 minutes after the ACX Crystal made an unexpected U-Turn. But the company operating the ship denies this, saying in a statement to the Wall Street Journal that the crash occurred at 1:30 am and the ship only turned after the collision. The Navy now says the crash happened at 2:02 am and has not provided an explanation for the discrepancy.
The Navy ship’s communications equipment was damaged in the collision which may have complicated the search and rescue operation.
The investigation will look at which ship had the right of way and how a state of the art US warship with collision avoidance systems could have been unaware of a massive ship traveling in a busy sea lane.
Most of the crew was asleep at the time of the collision but U.S. Navy officials say a watch team was on duty at the time.
“The combat information center would be manned, all the weapon systems would be manned, it might be down to minimum manning, but there’d still be an officer on deck, everybody on the bridge watching what’s going on. It’s the officer on the deck’s job to know what’s going on in the area so for a container ship to be able to approach a US Navy destroyer is very, very puzzling.” Says Rick Francona, a retired U.S. Airforce Lieutenant Colonel.
The USS Fitzgerald is now back in port in Japan and crews are pumping water out of the hull. It will be months before the ship is seaworthy again.
“The ship is salvageable…it requires some significant repair, but you will see the USS Fitzgerald back as one of our warships here, but it will require some time,” Said Aucoin.